10 Things I Learned From Doing My Own Maintenance

Philip Jagiela
Posted on August 13, 2009
Operator and auto hobbyist Philip Jagiela uses a low-cost, low-hassle maintenance program that can make a vehicle run 500,000 miles on the original drive train and save operators up to 50% on repair costs.
Operator and auto hobbyist Philip Jagiela uses a low-cost, low-hassle maintenance program that can make a vehicle run 500,000 miles on the original drive train and save operators up to 50% on repair costs.

Maintenance ranks among the top 10 expenses an operator faces behind fuel and insurance. How maintenance is approached varies among operators.

The most critical piece of the equation is to get the maintenance done as quickly as possible to get the vehicle back on the road without disrupting your service. Our company performs all routine maintenance in-house. It helps that I enjoy working on cars as a hobby. I personally perform many of the maintenance items in my business, but there is no reason why these jobs can’t be done by others in your organization. We have a fleet comprised of Lincoln Town Cars and Ford vehicles. As such, all of the maintenance items can be consolidated.

These tips are the ones we employ in our business. I realize there are many different opinions on when preventive maintenance needs to occur. This is what we do based on my learning over the past 21 years in the industry.

Our vehicles can easily exceed 500,000 miles on the original drive train. You may not want to run your vehicles that long, but if you take care of a vehicle, it can work for you far longer than you may have expected. By doing the basics consistently and using the right parts, you can extend the life of a vehicle and cut down on your overall repairs. Also, if you maintain the vehicle properly you can hold the value of the vehicle at trade-in time.

  1. Schedule
    By performing maintenance in house, you set the schedule. You are not at the mercy of anyone else and you build your time around your work. We don’t lose vehicles to maintenance.
  2. Scheduled Preventive Maintenance
    We do routine maintenance on a schedule. That includes:
    • Oil and filter at 4,000 miles
    • Air and fuel filters every 15,000 miles
    • Transmission service is performed every 25,000 miles (flush the entire system and replace the fluid). I have found that once I have done my first transmission service at 25,000 miles, I never change the filter again. By using the T Tech machine, a total fluid exchange is performed. After the first change, the filter never accumulates a significant amount of clutch fiber to require a new filter.
    • Serpentine belts are done every 50,000 miles (I only need a 3/8 ratchet wrench and a lot of patience to change a serpentine belt)
    • Wiper blades are done every spring and fall
    • Spark plugs are done at 80,000 miles
    • Tires are changed at 60,000 miles (they are rotated every other oil change or at 8,000 miles).
    • Brake pads last 50-60,000 miles (Rotors are replaced every other brake change. I do this to prevent pulsations of the brake pedal).
    • Shock absorbers are replaced at 100,000 miles to prevent tire wear and to maintain the smooth ride your clients expect.
    • Brake fluid is exchanged every 100,000 miles
    • Coolant flush is performed every 60,000 miles (This is the one service item I do not do in house as it requires a separate machine which costs about $3,200).
    • Lubricate window track with Silicon Lube in the spring and fall. This will minimize the replacement of window regulators as the windows will glide instead of bind.
  3. As Needed Maintenance
    Performed on the following items:
    • Bulbs
    • Air suspension bags. The bags will display check marks or stretch marks that will show they are fatiguing. Another sign of this will be that your air suspension compressor will be running more frequently
    • Batteries
    • Alternators
    • Coil Packs
    • Tires — we keep a spare mounted tire ready so that it’s quickly available. 
    • Washer fluid — we buy this in bulk.
    • Equipment Needed to Bring Your Maintenance In House
      We made the following capital equipment purchases to do our maintenance in house:
      • T Tech Trans Flush Machine which costs $1,500 if you buy new but can be readily found at service stations that are closing their businesses. 
      • Bulk oil storage — I buy my oil in bulk not by the quart. This is another great savings for us. We save 25% through buying in bulk. Your oil supplier will provide you with the equipment to store your oil. They will also provide you with a waste oil receptacle. We sell our used oil for 40 cents per gallon to be burned for heating fuel. What is nice is they remove it for us and it eliminates the hazardous waste reporting requirements.
      • Auto Scanner Actron OBD II (I explain this more below).
      • Floor jack (costs about $1,200. My jack is a five-ton floor jack).
      • Tire mounting and balance machine ($2,500 each one for mounting and one for balancing).
    • Diagnosing Check-Engine Lights
      Check-engine lights can be something as common as the gas cap not being properly tightened. If you take your vehicle to a dealership to diagnose the light, it will cost you about $60 not including your time and having the vehicle out of service. By using a simple handheld scanner that plugs into your vehicle’s computer, you can determine why the light is on. The scanner costs $180 (even less with some hunting on line). I use an Actron OBD II Auto scanner. The scanners span a number of model years. They can be used on all cars and light trucks. You don’t need any adapters and the instructions are simple to use. This will pinpoint the code for what needs attention as indicated by the vehicle light. It also will determine if the code is innocuous (like the gas cap). Once you properly secure the gas cap, you can erase the code and turn off the indicator light, preventing the trip to the dealership. The other great thing about this scanner is that Ford products tend to develop an electrical miss. The scanner can identify the specific cylinder which will allow you to replace the coil pack.
    • Oil Filters
      Do not use a standard Group 7 filter. It might not have the appropriate media filter and check valve. I use Napa brand silver or gold product lines in my operation, but there are other brands just as good.
    • Motor Oil
      We use 15W40. I have been asked why we don’t use synthetic oil. I find that it is not cost effective. I use 15W40 because it is the same oil used in diesel engines. The trick is to keep heat away from the engine. The viscosity allows that to occur. It also keeps our oil standard as we have both gas and diesel engines.
    • Tires
      Tires run the gamut. I know that everyone has an opinion here. I look for tread wear, temperature, and traction when buying tires. Generally, the tires will have a 600 or above tread wear rating. Temperature is “A” and traction is “B” or better. You don’t necessarily need to buy a brand name to get a good tire. I will plug a tire when necessary. I have the ability to mount and balance my own tires in house which is a tremendous savings for us.
    • Parts Inventory
      We always have parts at the ready. We buy parts in bulk and have a relationship with our part suppliers so that we can purchase at wholesale prices rather than retail. We do not keep an abundance of parts in stock but we do stock those that we know will ultimately need replacement. They would include: oil, fuel, and air filters; serpentine belts; tires; coil packs; spark plugs; brake pads and rotors; wiper blades; head, tail, and running light bulbs; batteries; alternators; oil; synthetic transmission fluid. We also go a step further and have on hand air suspension bags and shock absorbers.
    • Maintenance Records
      Every limousine software package has a record-keeping module within it. We additionally put a windshield sticker on our vehicles just as you would if you took it to your mechanic. 

    By performing routine maintenance in house, I believe I save more than 50% on maintenance as opposed to going to a dealership or local garage. You don’t need to do all of the things we do but you may want to start slow. I suggest looking at oil changes, wipers, and tires to begin with, then add more as you or your staff become more comfortable with handling these items. Those alone will net you a substantial annual savings.

    Philip Jagiela is the owner of Aries Limousine Service, based in Southhampton, Penn., and president of the Philadelphia Regional
    Limousine Association.

    Related Topics: maintenance

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